THE WATER BABIES
The Water Babies was taken on as a film project by Lionel Jeffries, who was better known as an actor in films such as The First Men in the Moon (1964), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1968) and numerous British comedies of the 1960s. Lionel Jeffries had had a huge success in his debut as director with the childrens film The Railway Children (1970). The success of this allowed Jeffries to go onto a modest career as a childrens film director with the likes of the little-seen but highly praised childrens ghost story The Amazing Mr Blunden (1972) and Wombling Free (1977).
There is a charm to The Water Babies. At least during the aboveground scenes, Lionel Jeffries successfully plumbs a Dickensian sense of vagabond romanticism with considerable élan. Both Jeffries and Charles Kingsley had strong socialist tendencies and The Water Babies also touches upon some of the darker aspects of Victoriana working class poverty, child labour conditions. The production values in the live-action scenes are given a good deal of conviction by a nicely gritty sense of period detail. This part of the film is capped by James Mason who plays up the bad-tempered Grimes to fine regard (even if his perfect upper-class elocution seems somewhat out-of-place in such a working class role). The Water Babies also has a decent orchestral score and some passably bland songs.
However, the film loses its grip when it comes to the underwater scenes. For one it becomes animated during these scenes, leaving its gritty bittersweet street waif drama behind for the caricatured surrealism of cartoon slapstick. The nicely bantered aboveground dialogue gives way to something that feels like it has been written by a entirely different author altogether. Many questions are left explained. The issues of Tommys water baby origin is ignored, so too who or what Mrs Tripp is. One also kept wondering what the big deal about Tommy not being able to return to the surface was why can he not simply swim back up (he seems easily able to ascend to the surface later in the piece by walking up the ice ladder to the polar kingdom)?
Full film available online here:-